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What Kids and Parents Think and Feel About Food, Physical Activity and Health: The Research Behind

October 15, 2009

Consumer Research: The Start of a Successful Project

In 1999, the International Food Information Council Foundation recognized obesity as an emerging issue likely to have a major impact on the public and the public’s interest in science-based information on nutrition, physical activity and health. Looking for potential avenues for communicating healthy eating and physical activity messages, the Foundation initiated in-depth consumer research with kids and parents through focus groups, ethnographic studies, and in-home interviews. The goal was to better understand children’s and parents’ attitudes, perceptions and behaviors about preventing overweight in childhood.

Some highlights from the 1999-2000 research include:

  • To kids, weight was related to performance and appearance rather than health.
  • In the area of weight improvement, kids wanted to have “small victories” to sustain their interest and build self-esteem, and physical activity ideas beyond organized sports.
  • Kids expressed a desire for parental guidance and emotional support.
  • Kids needed information that was “fun” and “cool.”
  • Parents, along with their children, did not see overweight as a health issue, and believed that their children would outgrow the problem.
  • Parents reported that they lacked the information and skills to address these issues with their kids. They were afraid of upsetting their fragile self-esteem.
  • Parents needed information that was credible and easy to use.

This research was published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2003, Volume 103, Number 6, pages 721 - 728, titled, "Developing health messages: Qualitative studies with children, parents, and teachers help identify communications opportunities for healthful lifestyles and the prevention of obesity." Also see the accompanying article from the same issue, "New Web site fights childhood obesity with fun," pages 671 - 672. Resources: Something Fun for Everyone

The resources were developed based on the consumer research completed in 2000, with the goal of promoting healthy eating and active living in a way that is fun and relevant. The integrated educational resources include the Web site designed for kids ages 9-12 and their parents; the Leader’s Guide, an educational resource, pilot-tested with the intended audience, consisting of 13 easy to use lesson plans for health professionals, educators, and others working with kids; and the Real-Life Guide for Parents, a brochure full of tips aimed at helping parents keep the whole family healthy. The resources are aimed at inspiring kids and their families to move toward healthier lifestyles. To learn more about all of these resources click here.

Checking In with Kids and Parents Five Years Later

In 2005, as a five year follow up, the Foundation conducted new consumer research to determine what if anything changed in the last five years. Specifically, this research focused on how parents and kids felt about food, physical activity and health, if kids and parents were more aware of the obesity epidemic, and if so, whether it had changed their fundamental thinking.

There were many similarities between the 2000 and 2005 research findings. Some highlights from the 2005 follow-up research include:

  • Compared to the 2000 research, parents were more aware of the health risks associated with overweight/obesity, specifically citing diabetes as a concern.
  • Most kids and parents knew how to be healthy, listing examples such as eating fruits and vegetables, drinking water, and exercising.
  • Some parents were initiating changes at home to focus on nutrition and physical activity with their family, such as grilling foods instead of frying, serving fruits and vegetables with meals, and incorporating physical activity into family time.
  • The greatest success stories were found with families that tackled the problem together through good nutrition and regular physical activity.
  • Although some families were taking action, parents continued to face multiple barriers including lack of time in their schedules, hesitance to initiate a conversation about weight with their kids for fear of upsetting self-esteem, the perception that they are poor role models, and frustration about the motivation levels with their children.

View the findings from the 2005 research (PDF)

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